Witley, April 25, 1917

Wednesday       Splendid day today I Rec’d 2 letters from J [Janie] last Apr 2 dated Did a little dismantling & cleaning. My teeth are giving trouble

If Percy were in the 58th Battery today, he would at least have a distraction from the pain of toothache. The 58th Howitzer, to which Archie Wills belongs, is having a second day of gas drill and preparation.

81 PH Helmet drill crop 2 people.jpg“Spent all morning on gas helmet and respirator drill This afternoon we went through the ‘death chamber’ where there was 1 – 2000 enough to kill you in five minutes. Things looked damned interesting for a few minutes. First a stretcher was carried up and then one of the chaps was sent back for some ammonia pills in case anything alarming happened. We adjusted our helmets and filed into the ‘death chamber.’ We packed in and remained in ‘gas’ for five minutes. You get a funny smell and taste. We got out in the fresh air after awhile without any casualties.”  (1)

The photograph from Percy’s small album identifies these as PH helmets — intended to protect from phosgene and hydrogen cyanide. Archie’s reference to ammonia pills, however, makes me think that the gas chamber was filled with chlorine, against which ammonia was supposed to be some sort of protection. Hence the instruction to hold a urine-soaked cloth over one’s face and nose, if no other protection is available. (2)

(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4: 40-41. April 25, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) Everts, Sarah. “When Chemicals became Weapons of War.” C&EN: 100 Years of Chemical Weapons. © 2017 Chemical and Engineering News.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”
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